Writing and Healing: “The Best Therapy I’ve Had”

by Sharon Lippincott on June 26, 2011

Writing and Healing LogoPost #19 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing and Healing – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler



Finding Healing through Writing

Sharon Lippincott

EstherI noticed Esther sitting quietly while the rest of the class gathered their things to leave. I took my time stowing my computer, curious about her delay. As the room cleared, she came toward me.

“I need to talk to you for a minute.” She spoke in halting, slightly slurred tones. “I experienced a brain injury several months ago, and my memory isn’t what it used to be. It’s hard to use my fingers, and …” she paused briefly, seeming to gather her thoughts. “It might be hard for me to read.” She glanced up at me beseechingly. “But I really want to write about things I do remember.”

I reached out and touched her arm for reassurance. “Don’t worry about it. Just do what you can and maybe when you start writing, more will come back. Give it a try and let’s see how it goes” She nodded gratefully.

My words surprised me. I had no reason to believe that — they just popped out on their own. I was certainly glad they did, since I had no better ones to offer. I secretly hoped she would let me read for her. The class was large, and we couldn’t afford for anyone to take a double portion of time while reading. It will work out, I thought hopefully.

The second week, she was the third person to volunteer to read. As I placed a copy of her story under the document camera, I was relieved to see it was only a few paragraphs long. It was a letter to a granddaughter about an experience Esther had when she was the same age. Although the content was sparse, and she struggled over many words as she read, her story was touching.

Each week her writing improved. Week five she handed me several paper-clipped pages. “Let me go last,” she murmured. “I don’t know if there will be time.”

I was relieved by her suggestion, and did as she asked. She wasn’t the only one with a longer story that day. Everyone was picking up steam as the class neared conclusion. Only ten minutes remained for Esther. I leafed through, and saw three-and-a-long-half pages. No way she’ll get through this much, I thought, understanding why she’d offered to go last.

“I’ll just read what we have time for,” she offered, aware of the situation.

“Esther, I read twice as fast as you,” I said, bluntly stating the obvious. “Would you like for me to read for you today?” She nodded gratefully. Her well-written story was filled with fascinating details of family history.

The next week was our grand finale. Once again, she brought a longer story, and read it herself. I was struck by an obvious transformation. Over the course of the six-week class, her speech had become far more confident. She was struggling over fewer words, and her speed had increased. I saw smiles on all faces as she read. Something magical had happened.

Sam had surprised the class with an invitation to convene at his home for cookies and conversation that day, a most unexpected and delightful event. Shortly after we got there, Esther came up to me, her face wreathed in smiles.

“I must tell you something,” she said. I heard excitement in her voice. “You were right. The more I wrote, the more I remembered. Memories are gushing back. And my hands move more easily. And did you notice that I can speak faster now?”

My heart nearly exploded with a mixture of joy and horror as she continued, telling me about walking her dog in the park when a rogue bicyclist ran smack into her nearly a year earlier. Her head struck a large rock as she fell. “I have to tell you, writing has been the best therapy I’ve had, and I’ve had a lot!”

Esther has taken my class two more times, and today few would notice any hint of speech impairment. She still credits writing as a sigificant reason. I’ve never heard a better testimonial for the power of writing for physical healing.

Photo credit: Rolf van der Zwart

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